Something to write home about

The Editors are thrilled to perform in Israel.

The Editors 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Editors 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Of all the international musical acts appearing here this summer, perhaps the one rock purists are most excited about is the Pixies. The cult status the American alternative rockers were pinned with during their initial incarnation in the 1990s has been overtaken in the ensuing years by near-mass worship, especially since they regrouped in 2004. Virtually every guitar-based indie rock band cites them as an influence, and Israeli fans – among their most avid – who, never having had the opportunity to see them the first time around are frothing at the mouth a bit, eagerly await their show at the two-day Picnic Festival at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
On June 9, four days after the festival kicks off with an opening blast of Placebo, Gorillaz Sound System, Klaxons, and Hank & Cupcakes, the Pixies will appear with support from British indie rockers Editors and local duo Carusella. As stoked as local fans may be to finally see Frank Black, Kim Deal and the Pixies in the flesh, the young members of the Editors may be even more excited.
“We jumped at the chance to come to Israel, and especially after we heard we’d be playing with the Pixies. We only played with them once before – at a festival – and didn’t really get to see them,” said Editors drummer Ed Lay in a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post from his home in Birmingham last week.
“This time, we’ll make every effort to see them. They’re a huge influence – not only on us – but on countless bands in the UK and all over the world.
“They’re such interesting characters – we’ve been watching loud QUIET loud [the 2006 documentary film chronicling the band’s 2004 reunion tour], and they’re such quirky people. It would be a thrill to meet them, but we’re going to be watching their show for sure, just like everybody else.”
But, of course, they won’t really be like everybody else – the Editors have emerged as one of the bright spots on the British rock landscape since Lay and three of his music-technology student friends from Stafford University – singer/guitarist/keyboardist Tom Smith, lead guitarist/keyboardist Chris Urbanowicz, and bassist Russell Leetch – formed the band in 2003. While the Pixies may have been an influence, the band’s dark, atmospheric sound owes more to post-punk countrymen like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division, along with nods to more contemporary colleagues like Interpol and Bloc Party.
SOON AFTER their graduation, the bandmates relocated 200 kilometers away, to Birmingham – England’s largest city outside of London – rich in rock ’n’ roll tradition, and began honing their craft.
Often credited as the birthplace of heavy metal, with Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and two members of Led Zeppelin hailing from the industry-focused, blue collar-based city, Birmingham has provided a fertile base for burgeoning musicians. Other musical trends to emerge from the city include the reggae and ska movement in the 1970s and 1980s through bands like Steel Pulse, UB40 and The Beat.
According to Lay, Birmingham provided the proper creative backdrop for the Editors to woodshed and find their voice.
“What I liked, and still love, about Birmingham is how down to earth it is and how it’s probably the most multicultural city you can find in the UK,” he said. “I love the energy just walking around different parts of the city.
“Unfortunately, so much of the industry is gone now, and there’s lots of confusion as to what’s going to rise up instead. But despite the difficulties and financial troubles, one of the greatest things about people from Birmingham is how incredibly friendly they are. They still know how to have a good time.”
Lay added that the residents of the city are proud of their rock ’n’ roll heritage, but with a slanted emphasis in rock folklore on the music scenes in other British cities, he admitted that he wasn’t really aware of when the band decided to hang their shingle there.
“I was always more into American alternative rock in the early ’90s, like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, but since I’ve been living in Birmingham, you start learning about the amazing music history here with Led Zeppelin and everyone else,” Lay said. “Slade, for example, made some really interesting pop records.
“People here are very proud; down at the pubs they’re talking about the folklore, and rightly so. But I think Birmingham has been overshadowed by Liverpool and Manchester. There have been so many great bands from here, and we hope Editors will carry on that tradition and we’ll be able to build a proper career for ourselves.”
THEY SEEM well on their way to doing that, despite – or maybe because of – a couple of major changes that took place before the recording of their recently released album, In This Light And On This Evening. One was physical – with the band’s bassist Leech and guitarist Urbanowicz relocating to New York City. The other was musical.
While their first two album, The Back Room and An End Has to Start, focused on reinvigorating the standard two-guitars-bass-and-drums lineup, when the Editors went into the studio last year to record songs for the new album with producer Flood (known for his work with U2, Nine Inch Nails, and the Killers) they ended up reinventing the wheel – with electronic keyboards and synthesizers.
“We went into the studio with basically the same guitar-bass-drums setup from the last two records. When we tried to flesh out a couple songs, we ended up recycling a lot of ideas we had already used and we ended up going home feeling unfulfilled,” recalled Lay.
“I think it was Chris who first brought it up. His guitar sound had become integral to the makeup of every song, and he said what if instead of writing the melodies on the guitar, I used a different instrument? He found this keyboard that had a fat, raspy sound, like a lead guitar, but it immediately added a completely different atmosphere and feel to the songs, and our ears pricked up.”
The rest of the band decided to move in a similar direction, and for the first time, Lay began using sampling and a drum machine instead of just playing on an organic drum kit. “It felt like the creative shackles had been taken off. We felt free to explore different sounds than we would normally associate with an Editors record, but it’s still a rock record,” said Lay.
INDEED, BOTH on record and during a recent appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show that witnessed Smith and Urbanowicz hunched over keyboards, the new guitar-less sound, like a rawer version of Depeche Mode, still bore a driving energy that identified it as the Editors. As singer Smith wrote on the band’s Web site, they were determined to “give the machines a human feel.”
“I guess we weren’t the first band to get excited by new sounds. In the ’80s, with the widespread use of synthesizers, it made the world a more interesting place when bands started using them,” said Lay, adding that the change in hardware has also inspired his playing.
“I don’t know if it affected my drumming style much. I’ve always been into four-to-the-floor dance patterns, so the transition was quite natural. On our next record, I’ll try to be a little more off-kilter, combining new and old equipment and trying to create something new,” Lay said.
“We’re all excited because of the last record, and how interesting it was to discover these textures, that when we finish this tour, we want to go right back into the studio.”
Who knows, maybe it will be Frank Black and the Pixies who are going to be the ones to stand on the side of the stage and watch the Editors’ set on June 9.